Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Great War in publishing

I spent the past couple months immersed in World War I.

My first task was to reformat my paternal grandmother's World War I diary for Blogger. For those of you unfamiliar with blogging platforms, Blogger is the grizzled old man of the Blogosphere. Me, in other words, a member in good standing of Seniors Wildly Indignant About Nearly Everything (SWINE). To this, I give a tip of the hat to Al Capp, who first coined the term in his L'il Abner comic strip, although the original SWINE was about "Students" and not "Seniors." Of course, the students of that era are now the retired cohort. See how things work out?

WordPress is the corporate middle manager of the web. Anyone who is anyone uses WordPress because it is so damn good, flexible yet complicated. There may be an up-and-coming (hipster) platform of the blogging world but what do I know -- I'm 65 and ready to step away from the workaday world.

My grandmother's WWI diary was first transferred to MS Word by my sister Eileen Shay Casey in Winter Park, Fla. In its original form, the diary was a tiny, battered notebook, held together by a strip of duct tape. Eileen was challenged to read the tiny handwriting, but did a wonderful getting it into e-shape.

From there, I broke it into nine sections, and then cut-and-pasted it into Blogger. To make sure that it appeared with the proper formatting, I had to lay in the copy in the html protocol, and then go back to the editing controls and reformat. This became important later on when I uploaded the blog posts to the Shared Book site (also known as blog2print) and created a print book of the diary entries. This is a publishing platform for bloggers, one I've used on several occasions. It's not the best way to publish your deathless prose (or poetry). But it is a way to print things such as diaries, family histories, memorials, etc. In my day job as Literary Guru for the State of Wyoming, I'm often asked, "Hey Mike, how do I publish my book?" I reply, "Have you written it yet?" The answer often is "No, but...." There's the rub. Wannabe writers often jump right to publishing before they actually write the book. This is putting the cart before the horse, as my Iowa grandfather might have said.,

There are many publishing platforms these days. Your challenge (and mine) is to find the right one.

But back to World War I. While formatting Grandma's (we called her Mudder) diary, I researched the history of medical units, army bands, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive and a score of other topics. I have read widely on the war. But I keep going back to its creative writing. The war itself lasted four years and a few months. The U.S. was involved about a year and a half, but wasn't engaged in combat until the war's last year -- 1918.

As a writer, I can only grasp the global span of the war through the eyes of those who were there. And what a group of writers were engaged in the struggle. Ernest Hemingway, Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Erich Marie Remarque, Jaroslav Hasek, Vera Mary Brittain. Their influence can be traced to the writers of all subsequent wars, all the way up to the current troubles in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Some historians have belittled the experiences of the war's tormented poets and writers. Not everyone saw combat in the trenches -- and told the tale in gruesome realism. To base your view of the war on Owen's "Dulce et Decorum est" is understandable but unrealistic.

But war is a human story. Regular folks are cast into big events. Their experiences are those events as experienced in the heart and mind of one person. How else can we understand? Some poets celebrated the heroics of The Great War: Jessie Pope (from a distance), Rupert Brooke, Joyce Kilmer. Some of them also died (Brooke and Kilmer). What were they thinking as death's icy fingers gripped their hearts?

We don't know. But we do know what other hearts experienced. Those people included my paternal grandmother, Florence Green Shay of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps. To read her diary, start at


Sam said...


Just remembered that Kansas City is home to the National WWI Museum and Memorial. Another reason to come see KC.


Sam said...


Update to my link to the National WWI Museum and Memorial. If you link on the page you will see they are having a special exhibit on "NURSES IN THE FIRST WORLD WAR".


Michael Shay said...

Bob: I found that nurses' exhibit at KC' World War I Museum when I was doing my grandmother's diary. I would love to see that museum. That's what retirement is for, right? Here's the link to the diary entry: